From Payday Report: Kentucky tobacco workers win two-week strike

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By MIKE ELK

While union density is dying in the coalfields, immigrants workers are building union strength elsewhere in the bluegrass state.

Three weeks ago, Payday reported on how a group seven tobacco workers that came to the United States on H-2A visas are on strike over unfair labor conditions. Employed at Wayne Day’s farm, which sells tobacco to Universal Leaf, the workers initiated the strike with the support of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), after discovering they were cheated out of thousands of dollars in wages over a three-year period.

Under federal law, the H-2A farmworkers minimum wage in Kentucky is $10.92 an hour. However, these workers were paid $7 an hour in 2015, $8 an hour in 2016, and $8 an hour again in 2017. Occasionally, the workers were paid only by a piece rate, earning as little as $3 an hour.

Last week, the owner of the farm finally agreed to settle the strike and pay the workers approximately $20,000 in back pay as well as lawyer’s fees.

“We didn’t know we were launching the first tobacco strike in recent Kentucky history but we got the grower’s attention by doing so, and we are glad that with the help of FLOC, he was pressured to pay us much of the wages we lost over the three seasons ofunderpayment.” said Cristian Santillan, one of the striking workers.

For more, listen to the Ohio Valley Resource’s local NPR segment on the strike.